I had to re-build my career after having a baby

Without a job to return to after maternity leave, Annie Ridout decided to create one for herself. But it wasn’t as simple as choosing a career and getting started; it would involve several false starts before she finally carved out the dream career…

My daughter was about five months old and we were away for the weekend. My latest career plan was to re-train as a Pilates teacher: I loved exercise, I loved teaching – this would be an opportunity to combine the two, and make money while keeping fit.

Before that, I’d looked into transcription. Having trained as a journalist, and worked as a copywriter, I thought I’d be good at this. I could listen to recordings then transcribe while my baby slept. I’d do it all from the kitchen table so that I could continue breastfeeding as and when required.

Another amazing idea I’d had was to become a masseuse. My mum always said I was good at massaging, and this would allow me to work flexibly: evenings and weekends, while my husband looked after the baby. I liked the idea of doing something with my hands, rather than staring at a screen.

But it was the Pilates teacher idea that prompted my sister to say: why don’t you just decide on one career path and stick to it; give it a go? I’d been bandying about ideas for months and now, on this weekend away, she was suggesting I stop brainstorming and start doing.

It made sense. You can have dozens of ideas and each will have potential. But you need to decide on one, commit and get started. However, I needed work that would fit in with family life; that would allow me to stay close to my daughter – and this was the biggest issue.

I can’t wait to share my freelancing tips, tricks and advice with other mums..

A few months later, the maternity pay I’d saved ran out. As a freelancer, you’re only entitled to statutory pay – around £136 a week, at the time – so I’d saved a pot of cash to supplement this, while still working on a full-time contract. But now I had a 10-month-old baby and no income.

At first, I thought a part-time job might be best, so I worked on an online magazine for a while. But what I actually wanted was to be my own boss; to set up something that would allow me to choose my own hours – and work during naps, in the evenings and at weekends.

That’s when I had the idea for The Early Hour. I’d create content and publish it at 5am for parents who were up early with a baby or young children. Initially, my business plan listed sponsored content as the main income stream. But over time, The Early Hour started opening doors…

I was asked to write an article for the Guardian. And Red Magazine. And Stylist. And to talk at Stylist Live, and on BBC radio. My old boss, Kim Palmer, hired me to write the copy for her new app, Clementine (helping women to feel calm and confident, through hypnotherapy).

And then something amazing happened: 4th Estate publishing (a Harper Collins imprint) offered me a book deal. They wanted me to write a comprehensive guide to setting up as a freelancer after having kids, including the highs and lows of my own journey.

This was a dream come true: I would become a published author, and my book would be helping other new mums who were in a fuzz, as I’d been. Women who are keen to find work that will fit more flexibly around family life, but aren’t sure where to start.

I’ve now finished the book, and I’m excitedly awaiting the ‘cover reveal’ and publication date. But meanwhile, I think it’s important to reflect on the career journey I’ve been on over the past four years; to remember the months of anxiety, not much money, stress, fear and low self-esteem.

Because that’s where many mothers are right now: in the confusing, sometimes dark months of maternity leave, wondering if they want to return to their old job. Wondering if they can return to the same employment (54,000 UK women lose their jobs during pregnancy or maternity leave every year).

What I’m most excited, in terms of my book, is giving mothers the confidence to create their own dream career. The brainstorming (‘shall I be a Pilates teacher, masseuse or transcriber’ etc) is a necessary part of the process, but it should be fun rather than fraught.

And if a new (or seasoned) mother decides she’d like to try freelancing, ‘The Freelance Mum’ will give her the tools to get started so that she doesn’t have to learn everything from scratch. I didn’t even really know what PR was when I launched The Early Hour, let alone SEO (both are covered in the book, in case you don’t either).

Having a baby re-shaped my life and made me question my identity. Something major shifted; my priorities changed. But I wasn’t ready to let go of my career completely. Freelancing in this way has allowed me to continue working, but on my own terms. And I can’t wait to share my tips, tricks and advice with other mums.

If you’re thinking about going freelance after having a baby – whether through choice, or following redundancy – ‘The Freelance Mum’ will be in shops in January 2019. But you can also pre-order it here.